The International Rescue Committee (IRC) helps people whose lives have been shattered by conflict and disaster.
From treating hundreds of thousands of children for malnutrition in East Africa to creating safe spaces for young refugees fleeing war in Ukraine, our teams work around the clock to ensure families can survive, recover and regain control of their futures.
Our work and methods vary depending on context and the needs of a community. Below, explore five innovative ways the IRC supports people coping with crisis around the world.
Helping children "Play Well" in Colombia and East Africa
While remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic was a challenge for many children, the pandemic has compounded issues for the most vulnerable, including young refugees and migrants.
By early 2021, it was estimated that 1.8 million Venezuelan children faced significant challenges in accessing quality education. Venezuela has been facing a severe economic downturn, with millions leaving for neighboring Colombia and other countries.
In 2020, the IRC launched “Play Well” in Colombia. Funded by the LEGO Foundation, Play Well finds new ways to help children learn how to understand their emotions, the feelings of others and how to interact with the world around them.
Play Well content is designed to help promote this type of social and emotional learning through play and storytelling. We deliver this content through radio, phones and free apps like WhatsApp to reach children in regions where internet access is unreliable or limited. Play Well uses social and emotional learning to help refugee and migrant children integrate into their new communities while also helping local children welcome and empathise with these young newcomers.
In Colombia, we partnered with Click Clack, a local creative agency, which has developed a world of educational characters loved by thousands of teachers and students. Together, we expanded the story of Enrique, the migrant chameleon, to develop a 20-episode radio show called On Air with Enrique. This show aired weekly on one of Colombia’s biggest radio stations and provided 3.6 million listeners with social and emotional learning content.
Play Well will continue to support vulnerable children in Latin America with videos, face-to-face services in community centres and a second season of On Air with Enrique.
In 2021, the Play Well programme travelled to support the needs of young refugees in Uganda and Tanzania, as well as children from the communities hosting them. The COVID-19 pandemic led to long school shutdowns in Uganda and Tanzania, making it difficult for children to access education.
With this in mind, we produced 20 episodes of a radio show called Dunga to promote the social and emotional learning of East African children. Play Well in Uganda and Tanzania reached an estimated 3.5 million people weekly through radio, in-person community sessions and digital platforms.
Providing cash assistance in Afghanistan
Almost 23 million Afghans, over half of the country’s population, face acute food insecurity. That means that their lack of access to food has put their life or livelihood in immediate danger. 43% of the population lives on less than one meal a day.
One key way the IRC helps Afghan families is through our cash assistance programme.
Recognising that people in crisis are best positioned to know what their families must have to survive, the programme provides Afghans with cash or cash vouchers that they spend according to their needs.
Afghan families have been able to buy food, clothes and other essentials after receiving cash assistance. Many have also used the money to travel to hospitals, purchase livestock and start businesses.
The IRC has developed strong ties with the people of Afghanistan through more than 30 years of delivering humanitarian aid and support in the country. With 99% of our staff Afghan nationals themselves, our ability to operate in communities across the country is rooted in their expertise and our decades-long presence.
Partnering with local women's organisations in Uganda
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many communities around the world reported an increase in gender based violence. In Uganda, the IRC partnered with local organisations like the Karamoja Women Umbrella Organization (KAWUO) to address the issue head on.
Working with local organisations allows us to better serve people affected by crisis because these groups understand the challenges their community faces, as well as how best to address them. Often they’ve already earned the trust of community leaders. Through partnerships, we support local leaders and nonprofit workers as they help their own neighbours.
In Uganda, our partnership with KAWUO provides safe spaces for women who report gender-based violence and trains men on how to treat and support the women in their lives.
This collaboration reached a new level of importance as cases of violence and abuse increased during the COVID-19 lockdowns.
The IRC provided biweekly training to KAWUO on key topics requested by the organisation and we continue to provide technical support to KAWUO today.
Together, we were able to coordinate psychological, medical and legal support remotely for survivors of gender-based violence.
By working with local partners and implementing innovative solutions to hurdles presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the IRC and KAWUO’s 617 case managers have provided uninterrupted support to courageous survivors of gender-based violence in Uganda.
EAGER in Sierra Leone: transforming educational opportunities for girls
In Sierra Leone, early marriages and pregnancies have prevented many adolescent girls from attending school.
During the 2014-16 Ebola crisis, girls in Sierra Leone experienced high levels of gender-based violence and an increase in early and forced marriages as families married off daughters they could no longer afford to care for. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a similar negative impact in many girls’ lives and further reduced their access to education when schools closed.
Through the Every Adolescent Empowered and Resilient Project, or EAGER, the IRC and our partners are providing education to girls aged 13-17 who never attended school or have dropped out. We have supported over 27,000 of these girls in Sierra Leone since launching the project in 2020 in collaboration with the researchers and planners of the IRC’s Airbel Impact Lab.
Through a 30-week learning program for girls, participants learn to read, write and do math as they also develop life skills like financial literacy. EAGER also provides one-on-one mentorships, which connect girls with female leaders in their community and help them develop a personalised plan for a successful future.
EAGER also brings caregivers and community leaders together to discuss ways they can support adolescent girls. The programme maximises its reach through a weekly radio programme that focuses on issues impacting young girls in Sierra Leone.
Rising to meet the needs of refugees in the U.K.
The IRC has a long history of helping resettle refugees in the United States, developing highly effective programmes to support the integration and wellbeing of refugees in their new homes. For example, 84% of refugees enrolled in IRC employment programmes in the U.S. become economically sufficient within 180 days.
We are now using our expertise to support refugees resettling in the United Kingdom.
In early 2021 we launched the Resettlement & Integration in Southeast England programme, or RISE, to help resettled refugees in the U.K. gain the knowledge and confidence to thrive in their new communities. The RISE programme provides training to newly arrived refugees that helps them navigate local services and understand the culture around them.
RISE places a particular focus on supporting refugee women. From the IRC’s work in countries around the world, we know that women refugees may face discrimination and barriers to employment. The RISE programme helps refugee families and in particular, women, engage with their new communities and take control of their futures.
In addition to the RISE program, the IRC provides employment assistance to refugees who are resettling in the U.K. We also train teachers who work in schools that have welcomed refugee students from Afghanistan and Ukraine to support the integration of these young newcomers.
The IRC is proud to be a leader in building innovative programmes to deliver humanitarian aid across the world. To find out more about our mission and work, read our annual report.
*Last names omitted for privacy